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Capsule Review - Earthbound Zero

Title Earthbound Zero
Developer Nintendo
Year 1989
Platform NES
Capsule Rating
Capsule Review: Earthbound Zero is perhaps the most famous NES game in existence. It is the predecessor of Earthbound, that brilliantly demented Super Nintendo gem; anyone who played the later title will instantly recognize Earthbound Zero. Initially, Shigesato Itoi had planned his satirical drug-induced opus for the NES, but at the last moment, Nintendo of America headman Howard Lincoln canned the American translation, fearing that Americans wouldn't be interested in an RPG. It was only years later that ROM hacker Neo Demiforce purchased, dumped and translated a stray Earthbound Zero cartridge, finally bringing the game to speakers of English.

Is this game worth one's while? Yes, but mainly as a curio. After all, the later SNES title is superior in just about every way. Earthbound was never known for its plot - rather, its appeal lay in the deadpan humour, the LSD-inspired battles, the hilarious items and the satire of America. All of these things are more fully realized in the later game. Earthbound Zero has them in spades as well; however, the graphics seem more bland (though the ones in the later game aren't hugely better, the older one lacks the freaky backgrounds in battles), and the sound is best left out of the discussion. But if you play Earthbound Zero, you'll have to put up with NES-era difficulty, game speed and play control, and that really is what harms the game - it shouldn't take as long as it does to get from your house to the first town, dammit. The actual speed might not even be vastly greater in the SNES game, but it certainly seems so. In short, it's interesting to see Earthbound in utero, but Earthbound Zero really doesn't stand up on its own. And since there's nothing that's really radically different from the later game - just a slightly different depiction of the same themes - this game can't compete with its own sequel. All in all, things turned out for the best; we got the better game later, and the older one received a shroud of mystique and a fascinating history to somewhat mitigate its lesser playability.

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